Tiny Tech #11: Scanning Probe Microscopy

Today from the world of Tiny Tech:

What’s the smallest thing you can see?  Well, ordinary microscopes can image things that are about 100 times smaller than a human hair, which actually is still pretty big on the nano scale.  For smaller objects, you need something more powerful called a scanning probe microscope, which, remarkably, can even see individual atoms.  These microscopes use a tiny pointed rod that traces out a zig-zag pattern on top of a surface.  It’s sort of like searching for that itchy spot on your back by feeling around with your finger.  When the rod crosses some bump like an atom, it’s lifted up.  The microscope keeps track of height of the rod as it zig zags, and from this information it constructs an image of the surface.

Scanning probe microscopes are very useful. For example, computer chip manufacturers use them to perform electrical tests on the tiny wires inside next generation computer chips, to find out whether the wires are working as they are designed to do. 

So when it comes to scanning probe microscopy, we are just beginning to scratch the surface.

Tiny Tech is made possible by the National Science Foundation and WUFT.  To learn more about Tiny Tech, go to tinytechradio.org.

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